Megan Zinken, 28, from St. Paul whirled one down the lane at Elsie’s in Minneapolis.
Matthew Hintz, Special to the Star Tribune
The best bowling in the Twin Cities
- Article by: MIKE MULLEN
- Special to the Star Tribune
- December 22, 2013 - 2:21 PM
That may be the single most gratifying sound that most of us unsporting types get to enjoy. Just about anyone can, at least once in a while, get an 11-pound ball to hit that first pin just right, setting off a wonderfully destructive and noisy domino effect.
Good thing there are dozens of bowling options around the Twin Cities. But picking the right bowling alley for your personality and mood on a given night can be a bit like finding the right ball: You wander around for a while and check the feel of a few different ones — “Oh, this one’s pink!” — until finally your fingers slip right into the holes, a perfect fit.
Finding the right time to go, well, that’s easy: after the dinner is done, the presents are opened and everyone’s tired of trying out your new XBox One. To help you figure out which lanes you belong on, we dispatched teams of amateur bowling critics to eight different spots around the Twin Cities. Here’s our guide:
Town Hall Lanes
5109 34th Av. S., Mpls. • 612-767-3354
Go here if … you like craft beer with your bowling.
At Town Hall Brewery’s new bowling outpost in south Minneapolis, you’ll find a 10-lane joint that’s family-friendly (in-house root beer!), with bright lighting and a generally cheery wait staff. As you roll, you’ll take note of the nostalgic-themed signs along the back wall, urging you to follow through and, of course, to drink beer. The family feeling dissipates with a bit of a curfew: A sign posted near the lanes warns that no first frames can start after midnight. If you make it that deep into the night, scoot over to the taphouse side of the building, where they’ll continue to serve Town Hall Brewery’s standbys, seasonals and guest brews.
Flaherty’s Arden Bowl
273 W. County Rd. E, Arden Hills • 651-633-1777 • www.flahertysbowl.com
Go here if …our uncle is in town. Especially if he’s Irish.
Flaherty’s is the kind of place that previous generations of Minnesotans will remember visiting in their youth — indeed, it might actually be the same place. Celebrating its 75th anniversary, the alley claims to be the nation’s oldest family-owned bowling establishment. That history is depicted on Flaherty’s walls, where a series of black-and-white photos capture scenes from days gone by. The same scenes can still be found today. There’s no music, so you’ll have to content yourself with the sounds of clattering pins and chattering bowlers, including a lot of sarcastic clapping. Your uncle loves that kind of humor.
810 W. Lake St. Mpls. • 612-825-3737 • www.bryantlakebowl.com
Go here if … you dress better than you bowl.
Let’s be honest, BLB is probably not ready to host a Professional Bowlers Association event. With chipped balls, slightly warped lanes and the occasional mechanical failure, 300 is more likely to be your bar tab than your score. But what it lacks in bowling bona fides is more than made up for by its style. Servers are quick on their feet, and even quicker with a joke. The food is on par with anything in Uptown. Also important, and undeniable: BLB attracts the attractive and lures the alluring, and just about everyone’s in the mood to chat. A bit of smack talk with the neighboring group can lead to some friendly, flirty competition. You’ll be handed a plain white sheet and a half-pencil to keep score. Pretend you don’t know how, and ask someone nearby for help. That one always works.
729 NE. Marshall St., Mpls. • 612-378-9701 • www.elsies.com
Go here if … your score is higher than your weight.
Elsie’s is a bowler’s bowling alley, the kind of stripped-down space that makes even the amateurs want to don a shirt with a nickname sewn above the breast pocket. Elsie’s features serious league bowling — sanctioned by no less than the United States Bowling Congress, which apparently exists — and some pretty competitive non-league games from its regulars. People come here to score big, so don’t be surprised if the scoreboards around you start filling up with X’s. If you don’t want to watch others succeed, there likely will be some kind of ball game on the screen next to your scoreboard. If you don’t want to bowl at all, retreat to the bar, where you can trade a game of skill for one of chance as you try your hand at pulltabs.
2520 26th Av. S., Mpls. • 612-721-6211 •
Go here if … You have a split personality. After all, so does this place.
Most nights, Memory Lanes is a standard, classic bowling hall, with all the trappings. The 30-lane facility is bright and spacious, with plenty of room to separate the serious bowlers from the one-timers and screwoffs. The “Flashback Cafe” serves diner-style fare. (The sandwich portion of the menu proudly associates itself with the Hormel logo.) But among the young set, Memory Lanes is probably best known for when it cuts loose. Every Monday is “Punk Bowl” night, where loud, aggressive bands set up in the middle lanes and provide a hardcore soundtrack. To some, all that noise might be a distraction. Bowlers with a wild side might find it’s just what they’ve been looking for.
Ran-Ham Bowling Center
490 S. Hamline Av., St. Paul • 651-698-0252 • www.crnook.com
Go here if … you prefer charm to class.
A few years back, there was word that this St. Paul institution might have to close down. Instead, the eight-lane gem was taken over by the owners of its upstairs neighbor bar, Casper and Runyon’s Nook. Bowling here is cheap and popular — on a recent weekend night, each of the eight lanes went from empty to full in 30 minutes. It’s mostly families, but college kids can also get their kicks, thanks to its divey vibe and cheap prices. The bar area is not for the claustrophobic, with small groups packed in like bowling shoes along the wall. Scores are kept manually on a big sheet, one that suggests you’ll be sticking around for more than a couple of games.
Midway Pro Bowl
1556 W. University Av., St Paul •
651-646-1396 • www.midwayprobowl.com
Go here if … mixing with leaguers, families and shoppers sounds like your kind of night.
Wedged into a strip mall next to a Walgreen’s, this alley is easy to miss on your first pass. Customers traipse down a flight of stairs to find 32 lanes available. The staff is pleasant but firm as they remind amateurs to please be mindful of the league bowlers nearby. The non-league crowd is an interesting mix. Young punk girls with lots of makeup stroll past dads taking young boys out for the night. Black and white families bowl side-by-side. As with other nearby University Avenue businesses, the alley looks forward to the eventual opening of the Central Corridor light-rail line. Until then, Midway is encouraging people to put up with the construction by offering $2 games every weekday before 6 p.m.
3401 Louisiana Av. S., St. Louis Park • 952-929-6810 • www.parktavern.net
Go here if … you want to play “Choose your own suburban adventure.”
For the city hipster, this brush with honest-to-God flannels and styled goatees might seem like a sociology class. Park Tavern is sports-centric, and games are never far from one’s field of vision, given the five flat-screen TVs. Off to the right is the “11th Frame” bar, with pool tables, dartboards and a crowd loud enough to drown out the bowling. A large, separate sports bar offers booths and high-backed chairs. Customers must choose which of those spots is preferable for purchasing beverages, as Park Tavern doesn’t send servers out to the lanes. As for food, expect something that’s either fried and covered in cheese and/or barbecue sauce. You’ll need a napkin before it’s your turn.
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